Bulls' Jimmy Butler named NBA's Most Improved Player

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 4: Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls shoots over LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second half during Game One in the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena on May 4, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Bulls defeated the Cavaliers 99-92. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 4: Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls shoots over LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second half during Game One in the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena on May 4, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Bulls defeated the Cavaliers 99-92. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

No one can settle on the best interpretation of the NBA's annual Most Improved Player award. But that doesn't mean the voters don't regularly settle on a very deserving winner.

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Chicago Bulls All-Star shooting guard Jimmy Butler, the final pick of the first round in the 2011 draft, was officially announced as the NBA's 2014-15 Most Improved Player on Thursday. Butler will be presented with the award at United Center on Friday, prior to Game 3 of the Bulls' Eastern Conference semifinals series with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The news was first reported by by Marc Stein of ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Butler received 92 out of a possible 130 first-place votes, finishing with 535 "award points," to take home the honor. (Players get five points for each first-place vote, three for each second-place ballot and one for each third-place nod.) Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green finished second, earning 11 first-place votes, 43 second-place bids and 200 total points; he also served as the runner-up in this year's Defensive Player of the Year race, slotting just behind winner Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs.

Another top-five finisher in DPoY voting, second-year Utah Jazz shot-blocker Rudy Gobert, came in third, with 12 first-place votes and 189 total points. Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside, who went from out of the NBA to a starting role on a playoff hopeful in less than two months, finished fourth, while Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson — who, like Butler, rose from starter to All-Star in his fourth pro campaign, rounded out the top five. You can check out the full voting results here.

This award often goes to a player whose per-game scoring average increases simply because he plays more minutes, but Butler is an exception. The 25-year-old guard played exactly the same number of minutes per game in 2014-15 as he did last season (38.7, tops in the league this year) but increased his scoring average from 13.1 points per game to 20 points a night while also improving every single one of his shooting percentages — from 39.7 percent from the field last year to 46.2 percent, from 28.3 percent from beyond the arc to 37.8 percent, and from 76.9 percent at the free-throw line to 83.4 percent.

Those changes coincided with a more essential role in the Bulls offense. Butler was the team's most consistent perimeter scorer for the bulk of the season, made his first All-Star team, and is currently averaging 24.1 ppg through the Bulls' first seven playoff games. Butler earned his first postseason award last spring when he was named to the All-Defensive Second Team.

Butler joins recent MIP winners Kevin Love and Paul George as players who took home the hardware while making the leap from the level of a solid young player to that of a star. There are many other ways to look at the award, and the other top 2014-15 candidates fall into some of the most common categories.

The Heat's Whiteside became one of the league's top rim protectors after falling out of the league for two full seasons — he was the pick for those who value a rise from having been written off by the vast majority of analysts. Utah's Gobert was a relative non-factor as a rookie but became a fearsome player at both ends in his second season — he's a good choice for anyone who wants a player who rises from obscurity and looks primed for much better things in the future. Golden State's Green is a bit like Butler — he stands out for those looking for a rotation player who becomes an essential part of a contender.

Whatever option you prefer, it's difficult to argue that Butler isn't deserving of the honor. His next challenge will be to stay a star for years to come.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!